McCoy's Revenge: Chip Kelly's Tone-Deaf Comments Prove Racism Is Still the Problem

By srasher
Jun. 01, 2015

McCoy, with herd of buffalo logos.
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, the Philadelphia Eagles finally deigned to respond to a three-week-old comment by LeSean McCoy that racism had motivated their ostensibly  As McCoy surely knows, racism is a nuclear accusation, an impossible charge for anyone to respond to or disprove. It's also an oversimplification of what McCoy actually told ESPN's Mike Rodak in a May 6 interview. He began by noting that his relationship with head coach Chip Kelly had always been poor, and that their friction had come, to some extent, from Kelly's desire to maintain total control over his team. It was in that context that McCoy noted,  In other words, McCoy sees Kelly as a control freak who fears players who are talented and strategically adept enough to challenge his absolute control. But - as often happens, whether or not anyone is brave enough to say it out loud - the black players threaten Kelly most of all, according to McCoy. Racism, unconscious or otherwise, has exacerbated Kelly's alleged tendencies toward self-sabotage and turned an already unpleasant work atmosphere into an intolerable one for McCoy. That's what makes McCoy's comments seem relevant and justified to me: he's noting the way bigotry intensifies problems that already exist, and the way problems of coach-player compatibility and team environment can (again, often unconsciously) justify racist actions.

illustrates the extent to which he's not getting it. First, he appealed to colorblindness: "We put a lot of time in looking at the characters and factors that go into selection and retention of players, and color's never been one of them." But when white people talk about things like "character," we (and, white lady that I am, I can't exclude myself here) often incorporate cultural or racial expectations into our assessments of what "good character" means.  What a young black athlete might intend as an energetic expression of enthusiasm, an older white coach might interpret as rowdy insubordination. We also apply racialized double standards: McCoy says that Kelly feels threatened by any player who challenges him, but black players who speak their minds make him more nervous than players of other colors. In general, in American culture, we're taught to perceive outspoken black men as especially dangerous, a lesson that builds subliminally through media depictions of black violence and aggression. Kelly's dismissal of the suggestion that race plays any part in his assessment of players shows that Kelly doesn't take into consideration whether he's being harder on his black players than his white ones - and it means that if unconscious prejudices are coming into play, he's not taking any responsibility for counteracting them.

Kelly quickly shifted his statement from a direct, if inadequate, response to McCoy's claims so he could spend the bulk of his remarks explaining how McCoy had made him feel. He said, "I’m not governed by the fear of what other people say. Events don’t elicit feelings. I think beliefs elicit feelings, and I understood what my beliefs are and I know who I am.” Let's set aside the mind-boggling rhetorical horrors of this remark, because I've taught college composition for a decade, and my desire to uncap a red pen and scrawl "AWK" and "VAGUE" all over it almost drowns out all other commentary. Kelly's underlying message is that he's interpreting McCoy's accusation not as an attempt to shed light on a systemic problem within the Eagles, the NFL, and the United States, but as attempt to insult Kelly. Kelly seems to think that McCoy called him a racist because nobody likes being called a racist - it's become a slur, at least in the eyes of white people who don't want to worry about whether they're being racist. Therefore, rather than examining the content of McCoy's message, Kelly is confident that McCoy's comments don't matter because he's rubber and McCoy is glue. Or, more precisely, Kelly knows his beliefs, and those beliefs don't include racism (that's he's aware of), so he doesn't feel like a racist, so McCoy's words can't hurt him.

If it sounds like I'm reducing Kelly's response to schoolyard childishness, well, it does sound like that's a factor. Clearly, Kelly and McCoy never got along, and McCoy is all too happy to move on to a team with a philosophy more harmonious with his own. In the ESPN interview, McCoy said that Kelly and Buffalo head coach Rex Reed have nothing in common, and that Reed's approach is laid-back and fun, "how a player approaches it." And as Bill Barnwell pointed out in Grantland when the trade was first announced, the Bills are a team with no quarterback to speak of and no hope of acquiring one, so McCoy's input, as an experienced running back with good instincts, probably has a great deal of value there. There's a clear thread of "look how much happier I am, taking weekend trips to Toronto and not putting up with your bullshit" in McCoy's comments. But there's also a call for coaches throughout the NFL - and people in other kinds of power positions - to evaluate whether race plays an underlying role in their decisions. Kelly's beliefs and feelings (whatever the heck they are) might be out of reach, but maybe the rest of us can acknowledge that McCoy's criticism applies to us. too.


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